‘Hard Knocks’ creator behind the Bengals

By John Kiesewetter
Article originally appears on

Could there be a bigger fan of “Hard Knocks: Training Camp with the Cincinnati Bengals” in Los Angeles than Marty Callner?

The Cincinnati native, who watched the Bengals play way back at Nippert Stadium, created the HBO reality series.

“I’ve always lobbied to get Cincinnati on the show,” Callner says by phone from his office.
The 1964 Woodward High School graduate is best known for directing HBO’s concerts. He’s the award-winning director-producer behind HBO shows starring Jerry Seinfeld, Justin Timberlake, the Rolling Stones, Madonna, George Carlin, Britney Spears, Whitney Houston, Garth Brooks, Ray Charles, Gladys Knight and last weekend’s live George Lopez concert.

He’s up for six prime-time Emmys on Sept. 20 – three for HBO’s “Will Ferrell: You’re Welcome America, A Final Night with George W. Bush” and three for HBO’s “Chris Rock: Kill the Messenger.” He has also directed more than 200 music videos for bands from A to Z, Aerosmith to ZZ Top.

And in the middle of doing all of this, he came up with the idea of a football training camp reality series, following old and young players sweating and grunting to make the team. He pitched the idea to HBO and the NFL, which resulted in the series produced by Steve Sabol’s NFL Films in 2001.

“It was the first realty show where the reality was very real,” says Callner, who started at WCPO-TV (Channel 9) after college in 1969 working on shows for Bob Shreve and Nick Clooney. He later directed Al Schottelkotte newscasts, then went to Boston to direct Celtics telecasts, before moving to Los Angeles.
“For some of these guys, the stakes are very scary. After 18 years of hard work – if they started when they were 4 or 5 – it has come down to the moment when they learn if they’ve succeeded or failed to make (the NFL).”

Callner credits Steve Sabol and NFL Films for all the show’s success. Callner has never been involved with the production. He gets a “created by” credit and a royalty check.

“I’m very, very proud of ‘Hard Knocks.’ The execution by Sabol and his staff is flawless. They’re so good, all I do is sit back and enjoy the show,” Callner says.

And he can’t wait to see more episodes about his beloved Bengals (10 p.m. Wednesday, HBO). He’s been a fan since watching them in 1968 from his girlfriend’s University of Cincinnati dorm room overlooking Nippert Stadium.

Callner had hoped to visit Bengals camp in Georgetown this summer, but needed to spend a month on the road with Lopez preparing for the live HBO concert Aug. 8.

He credits “taskmaster” Schottelkotte – Cincinnati’s No. 1 newscaster in the 1960s and ’70s – with providing his live-TV foundation.

Callner has been busy adding old concert and music video clips to his new Web site (
Soon he’ll start preparing for HBO’s “Robin Williams: Weapons of Self-Destruction,” to air Dec. 6. He doesn’t plan to slow down.

“I know this sounds crazy, but I feel like I’ve just gotten started,” he says.